White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009) is a Korean film based on Keigo Higashino‘s novel Byakuyako. It’s one of these stories where events fourteen years ago have a direct bearing on current events with the same detective being on both cases. The original case involves the death of a moderately successful pawnbroker. His body is found locked inside the compartment of the rusting hulk of a ship. The only way into or out of this compartment is by climbing up a hatchway used to deliver food to the different levels. The body was found by young boys who play in this derelict place. It also appears the victim was paying money to a woman on the other side of town, but it’s not clear what form the relationship took. Before this can be clarified, the woman appears to commit suicide leaving evidence she might have killed the man. The senior police are quick to wrap up the case, taking the suicide as an admission of guilt. Detective Han Dong-Su (Han Suk Kyu) is not convinced that it was a suicide. This is one of these delightful moments in a film where you can watch the detective thinking and having one of those Eureka moments when the fact that doesn’t fit becomes obvious. Each of the departed leaves a teenager behind. The pawnbroker had a son called Yo-han. The suicide had a daughter called Jia. They were in the same class together at school. They both loved Gone With the Wind and the music of Tchaikovsky, particularly Swan Lake. After the deaths, they never seemed to speak to each other. A little while later, Jia moved to Seoul to live with her aunt who taught her how to make beautiful clothes.
In our time, Mi-Ho (Son Ye-Jin) is set to marry Seung-Jo (Lee Jong-Won) the chief executive of a large corporation. He asks her why she wants to marry him and is not offended when she says he’s rich. She wants his money to ensure she’s protected from all future hardship and pain. In much the same way the executive might headhunt an employee, he’s asked Si-Young (Lee Min-Jung), his executive assistant, to do a background check on Mi-Ho. She notices a man apparently following Mi-Ho. When she tackles him, she’s frustrated when it turns out to be Han Dong-Su who bullies her into telling the whole story of the engagement. When he sees her investigative report, he realises Mi-Ho is Jia, the daughter from the earlier case now grown up. This prompts him to wonder what’s happened to Yo-Han (Ko Soo).
Leaving his offices for the drive to their home in the outskirts of the city, the top-of–the range Mercedes carrying Seung-Jo and Mi-Ho crashes. Despite her own injuries, she rescues him just before the car catches fire. Now convinced she’s a special person, he asks her for the truth about her background. After a pause, she tells him that, fourteen years ago, she discovered she was the daughter of a murderer when her mother committed suicide. With this “last barrier” falling, Seung-Jo tells her they should get married immediately. This deeply offends his daughter who says she’ll never accept Mi-Ho as her mother. Si-Young is also deeply unhappy and goes back to Han Dong-Su to ask for help. He shows her the files he’s kept. They agree to work together. It’s when she finds evidence Seung-Jo’s car was tampered with that her life is in danger.
Although there’s a lapse into melodrama at the end, this is an almost pure tragedy. It’s easy to say that nothing can ever justify a murder. Most societies have moral and legal codes designed to protect human life. Of course governments hold up punishments of varying shades and degrees as a deterrent. The theory being that individuals planning a murder will see the punishments and decide the benefit they will derive from the death will not outweigh the costs of the punishment. Except this assumes either that murders do not occur spontaneously but are always planned by rational people, or that rational murderers believe they will be caught and so feel threatened by the punishment. Neither is terribly convincing. In this dark story, we’re looking at something close to justifiable homicide. It’s in the spirit of self-defence but tainted by complicated emotions of revenge. The second death is pure premeditated revenge but, once you understand the circumstances, you can understand why the killer should be driven to it. It’s unlikely there will ever be a catharsis or redemption for the killer. As viewers, we can feel pity and understand the fear that underlies the need to kill. Every human knows such feelings. But forgiveness is a different matter. As a society, we can’t exculpate those who kill others. There must always be a price to be paid so that society’s values can be seen to be upheld. As to whether a killer can ever forgive him or herself. . . I suppose some people have a conscience and no matter what happens, they will always feel the guilt. Others may be emotionally damaged and so be unable to understand society’s values. They survive by ignoring the judgement of others and doing only what’s needful to protect themselves. Such people would be incapable of giving love. As to accepting the love of others. . . that would be seen as a weakness to be exploited when needed.
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 is a dark and disturbing story with some sex scenes so it’s not for everyone. I found it completely absorbing despite the failure to explain one plot element and the slightly unsatisfactory melodrama at the end. I forgive Park Shin-Woo, the director and joint screenwriter. In police procedurals, there must aways be a climax with people running around in desperate chases. Without a doubt, it’s worth seeing as yet another impressive piece of fiction from the pen of Keigo Higashino.
For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Salvation of a Saint
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ～劇場版・新参者～ (2012)